"Many of you will be seeing runners pounding the roads and ploughing through mud on country footpaths this winter despite the rain and darkness. Lots of us local runners are training for the London Marathon in April and other races. But did you know that one hundred years ago Chesham hosted national and international cross country races that started in Lowndes Park in March. If you know anything about these races and especially the competitors then please let me know – this year’s Herbert’s Hole Challenge in November will be honouring the memory of these runners competing just before the outbreak of the Great War”
In March 1914 two major cross-country running races were held, starting and finishing in Lowndes Park Chesham.
The English National Cross Country Championship attracted 269 runners and is still held every year. Seven extra trains were laid on to bring competitors and supporters to the town. Chesham was a great host with many local organisations making their premises available as changing rooms, press offices and a telegraph unit in the Post Office. The townspeople raised some 30 guineas to provide a trophy, ‘The Chesham Challenge Cup’, for the individual winner. It is still presented every year to the winner of ‘The National’.
In 1914 the race was won by Charlie Ruffell of Highgate Harriers who also ran in the Olympic Games in both Stockholm (1912) and Antwerp (1920). Since then the race has been won by some famous athletes including Gordon Pirie, Ron Hill, Dave Bedford, Brendan Foster and Eamon Martin.
An International Race with teams from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and France was held just two weeks later. Some 5000 spectators watched the race which included a lap of Lowndes Park before heading towards Frogmoor and Pednor Bottom. Both events were reported in the Bucks Examiner.
Chiltern Harriers AC will be organising the 23rd Herbert’s Hole Challenge starting in Lowndes Park on 16 November 2014. They want to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1914 races and would appreciate any information readers may have about these events and local runners.